Public architecture as performance space in the prehispanic central southwest

Katherine A. Dungan, Matthew Peeples

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Public or religious architecture in non-state societies has traditionally been interpreted as integrative, an assumption that has limited the ability of archaeologists to study religious change in these settings. We argue that considering such structures within their local historical contexts offers a better approach to understanding diversity in religious architecture. This study examines great kivas, large public or religious buildings in the prehispanic U.S. Southwest, as potential performance spaces, using structure size to estimate audience capacity relative to community size. We compare circular great kivas present along the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau with rectangular great kivas used in the Transition Zone to the south between the 11th and 14th centuries CE. The two traditions share certain similarities, and some great kivas in the area where the two traditions meet appear to be “hybrids.” However, examining great kivas as potential performance venues in relationship to the surrounding settlements suggests that the social roles played by rectangular and circular great kivas followed notably different historical trajectories. Although settlement size increased in both areas, circular great kivas became less restricted and more accessible through time, while the latest rectangular great kivas were probably less accessible and more exclusive than their forebears.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-26
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Great kiva
  • Performance
  • Public architecture
  • Religious architecture
  • U.S. Southwest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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